There’s an intriguing sub-plot in the shape of a former Spurs midfielder who was once tipped for great things.
Dele Alli returns to Tottenham on Monday night with Antonio Conte warning the England midfielder that players he discards almost always go on a downward spiral, writes Jon West.
Everton signed Alli last month in a deal that was complicated and careful on the part of the relegation-threatened Goodison Park club.
Tottenham fans are sure to give the 25-year-old a warm welcome but that is based on fond memories of stirring deeds when Mauricio Pochettino was manager. Alli did not thrive under Jose Mourinho, was played in a midfield role with limited attacking possibilities by Nuno Espirito Santo and was one of four high-profile departures in Conte’s January clear-out.
English football is full of tales of the scorned returning to haunt former employers, from Francis Lee’s “just look at his face” moment in the 1970s to Emmanuel Adebayor running the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of Arsenal fans in 2009.
However, Conte insisted: “Honestly I don’t remember one player that when he went away came back with a great spirit of revenge. I try during my coaching to be always honest with the players and to give all of them the possibility to show me they deserve to play. What happens usually is that when players went away they went down, not up.”
Conte did not rule out a phoenix-style return to hot form by the player whose last England cap was in 2019 but was hardly predicting it either.
“It is difficult to say something about it,” he said. “For sure he is still young and his career is in his hands because he is very young.”
Conte was certain that letting Alli go was good for the player and Tottenham, with Everton initially getting him on a free. Alli has yet to start a game for his new club and is cup-tied for the FA Cup. That means the £10 million Tottenham are understood to have negotiated for 20 appearances cannot be triggered this season, with a £40 million maximum clause jackpot following four times that amount of games a long way off.
“It was a good decision, for the player and for the club,” Conte said. “The player wasn’t playing regularly in the last few years. So it was good to go to another environment and have another challenge for himself. I tried to get the best out of him and he was always available. He deserves big respect for what he did for this club.”